You could say all of the above are what helped land the Stanislaus State women’s volleyball team in the eight-team California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament, which starts Thursday in Turlock.
But perhaps the key to this turnaround season for the Warriors, who went from 3-23 last season to 16-10 this season, were the 4:30 a.m. group text messages throughout the spring from Gardner, reminding her teammates to be at Fitzpatrick Arena for the daily 5:30 a.m practices.
Class scheduling conflicts were ultimately behind the decision for the early practices. Gardner, one of the team captains, took it upon herself to do the rest.
She’d rise at 4:15 a.m., look for a funny meme, video or quote. She’d hit send to her teammates at 4:30, and if she didn’t get a response, a phone call to that player would follow.
“At my old school (Texas A&M International in Laredo, Texas), we had morning practices,” said Gardner, who transferred to Stanislaus State in 2017. “There were so many times where people overslept or were late to practice. It caused a lot of chaos.”
And chaos was the last thing Gardner wanted for her senior season following the 2017 debacle.
“Nobody really wanted to get up that early, but it brought us together,” said coach Mallori Gibson-Rossi, who was on the receiving end of those texts. “It created a little more team chemistry and accountability.”
The 2017 disastrous season, which began with 15 straight losses, was due, in part, to a young roster (four freshman starters), injuries and the inability to have the same lineup on the court each night.
“It was hard to be a cohesive team,” said Gibson-Rossi, whose Warriors were coming off a 2016 season that included a victory in the CCAA postseason tournament.
Last spring, Gardner and some of the returning players took it upon themselves to focus on building relationships with the new players, something she admitted didn’t occur in 2017.
“We talked a lot in the spring and summer as returners about being different and more welcoming and creating a different dynamic for the team,” Gardner said. “We wanted to make sure everyone felt like they belong on the team.”
Gibson-Rossi took it as a sign of Gardner’s continued off-the-court development.
The commitment to the early wakeup calls in the spring bled into the summer, when the coaches weren’t watching.
“We don’t see them for three months, and we cross our fingers that they come back in shape for August,” Gibson-Rossi said.
Every player returned to campus in shape, passing the requisite physical preseason tests. It showed on the court as the Warriors won their first seven games, albeit against teams that didn’t match the talent level seen in the CCAA.
Coming into this week’s tournament, the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II rankings has San Bernardino State at No. 1, Cal State LA at No. 15 and Cal Poly Pomona, which the Warriors open with on Thursday at noon, at No. 17.
“The CCAA is one of the top three conferences in the country,” Gibson-Rossi said.
It’s been a season of streaks for the Warriors, who won their first seven games, lost their next four, won five of six then lost five of six. They closed out the regular season with three straight wins.
The constants this season were the play of Adams, a 5-foot-10 junior from Silverdale, Wash., who packs a punch. She leads the team with 290 kills, good for 3.97 a set.
“She’s a very physical attacker who moves well and jumps well,” Gibson-Rossi said. “She has that killer instinct. The team goes crazy when she puts the ball away, and it really ignites us.”
Said Gardner: “I love watching it. I get so excited, it makes me feel like I got the kill.”
Another is Gardner, a 5-10 outside hitter from Greshman, Ore., who is second on the team in kills (230) and kills per set (2.84).
Her team-leading 21 putaways and her performance in the fifth and deciding game against Chico State on Saturday — in front of her family on Senior Night at The Fitz — helped the Warriors clinch a tournament spot.
“I love playing in front of family and friends,” Gardner said. “I’m from Oregon and it doesn’t happen all that often. I fed off the energy of the crowd.”
Gibson-Rossi said it was the best game of Gardner’s career.
It also lifted a weight off the players. As host of the CCAA Tournament, the Warriors did not want to miss out on the opportunity to play at home in the postseason. Only the top four teams in the conference’s North and South divisions qualify.
Throughout the season, the Warriors were hovering from third to fifth.
Gibson-Rossi said she overheard players lamenting how San Francisco State did not make last year’s tournament, which was played in ... San Francisco.
“It definitely provided motivation,” Gibson-Rossi said. “There’s no way I wanted to host this tournament and not be participating in it.”
She knows getting past Pomona in the first round will be difficult. The Broncos beat the Warriors in their only two meetings — 3-0 and 3-1. Both of those matches, however, were in early September.
The Warriors come into this match knowing they’re 100 percent healthy, and they have a victory this season over Cal State Monterey Bay, a playoff team that blanked Cal Polly Pomona last weekend.
“We lost to Chico the first time and beat them the second time,” Gibson Rossi said. “Having that in mind, the past doesn’t determine what outcome we’ll see. What matters is we show up early and play our game.”
The Warriors know all about showing up early.
LOCAL FLAVOR: Five players participating in the tournament prepped at Stanislaus County high schools.
Jenna Tobin, an outside hitter who leads Cal State Monterey Bay in kills and kills per set, played at Gregori High. Makenzie Webber, an outside hitter, also at Monterey, is a graduate of El Capitan in Merced.
Outside hitters Kaylene Ureno (Pitman) and Yisel Perez (Pitman) and defensive specialist Cali Miller (Waterford) all play for Stanislaus State.
TICKETS: Per-day tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for seniors, children and students with ID. They are available at the Fitzpatrick Arena box office or online at WarriorAthletics.com/Tickets .
CCAA WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
at Stanislaus State, Turlock
Noon: Stanislaus State vs. Cal Poly Pomona
2:30 p.m.: Cal State San Marcos vs. Cal State East Bay
5 p..m.: Cal State LA vs. Cal State Monterey Bay
7:30 p.m.: San Francisco State vs. San Bernardino State
Semifinals, 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Championship, 7:30 p.m.